How To Talk About COVID-19 With Your Children:
It looks as if the leprechaun traps are back on for St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow. My girls have been obsessed with building them since preschool, even though that was over half a lifetime ago for them now. They’d planned to skip the ritual this year, because we were supposed to be on a beach in Mexico this week. But thanks to the new coronavirus COVID-19 circling the globe, we’re at home instead.
Kimmie’s school and Daddy’s school were supposed to be on spring break this week. Instead, Dear Husband (who teaches at a local university) has one week to convert the rest of his face-to-face math lecture courses into online format. And all our local schools – like so many others throughout the country – are now closed for at least two weeks, if not longer.
It’s a strange new world, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since the worldwide influenza outbreak of 1918. No one currently alive has experience with managing a global health pandemic of this magnitude.
So what’s a parent to do? How do you talk about the new coronavirus with your children? How do you prepare your family for the weeks and months ahead?
Here’s some of what we’ve done so far, along with tips from the experts:
Talking About The Coronavirus With Your Kids: Tips for Success
Kids can tell when we’re stressed. If you’re especially worried about COVID-19, try to remain calm when you talk to your kids.
If you’re finding your own emotions and anxiety level spiraling out of control, here are some tips to help you regain a sense of balance.
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DO: Be calm, and explain on a need-to-know basis.
If your kids’ schools haven’t closed yet, it’s only a matter of time. As of yesterday (March 15), the CDC has recommended that all Americans avoid gatherings of 50 or more people for at least 8 weeks, to slow the spread of this very contagious illness. Minutes ago, President Trump cut that back further to gatherings of 10 people.
This means that in all likelihood, schools could be closed for quite some time. Along with restaurants, many stores, museums, sporting events, and kids’ extracurricular activities.
- Just where we live, our local Girl Scout council has already suspended all cookie booths for the short term, and our local troop (following the lead of our school district) is cancelling meetings for as long as schools are closed. This also cancels our Juniors’ upcoming science museum trip (the museum is closed anyway), and our service unit’s International Festival in a few weeks.
- Churches are closed/switching to streaming. Which works fine for a Sunday service, but less so for many of our youth classes, where fellowshipping with their friends F2F is a key component.
- And after a record first consignment sale of the season the first week of March, my second and third sale (both scheduled for April) are now up in the air.
Kids can already tell that things are not “normal.”
Your job, as a parent, is to answer their questions about why while calming their fears. If you’re having a hard time wrapping your own brain around the idea of “social distancing,” this article has some great moving pictures (computer-generated simulations) that can help explain how social distancing can help to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
At the same time, though, remind them that coronavirus is just another virus. Remind them of the last time they caught a cold, a stomach bug, or maybe the flu from someone at school. This new coronavirus is just as easy to spread – maybe easier, because it’s new to our systems. But because scientists still don’t know much about it, and (unlike the flu) there is no vaccine, we’re all trying to be extra-careful NOT to share this new germ with others.
And just as they probably don’t enjoy feeling yucky with a cold or stomach bug, it’s worth trying to avoid getting this new virus because no one wants to feel yucky because they’re sick – right?
DON’T: Over-consume media.
Especially not around your kids.
I will admit to being guilty of this in recent days. I pretty much keep the radio on all day everyday anyway (it’s my work-from-home background noise), but lately I’ve found that while the radio is on and I’m supposed to be working, I am instead trolling the web, switching from one news site to the next.
DO: Stay informed with reliable information.
On the other hand, don’t stick your head in the sand. The Centers for Disease Control, your local TV station or newspaper’s website, your state’s Department of Health website, and national news outlets’ websites are your best source for the latest recommendations and news on managing the spread of COVID-19.
DON’T: Overshare, blame, or scapegoat
Yes, this is serious. Yes, lots of people will die – both around the globe and in the United States.
But this doesn’t mean you need to scare your kids with the worst-case scenarios.
It’s important to be honest with your kids. But a 12-year-old can handle more of the hardcore realities of how this thing is unfolding than a 4-year-old can, and a 17-year-old can likewise handle more than a 12-year-old can.
DO: Focus on positive, active steps you and your family can take to stay healthy
A good place to start is by asking your kids what they’ve learned in school already:
- Many schools are explicitly teaching proper hand-washing techniques. If your kids haven’t already learned this, watch this super 90-second video with them.
- A week ago during our regular Cleaning Power Hour, Kimmie started wiping down all the doorknobs and light switches with cleaning wipes, because she’d seen the custodian at school doing this.
- Another practice Kimmie’s school used last week was having all kids either use hand-sanitizer OR wash their hands promptly upon entering the building. This is another practice we’ve tried to institute whenever someone reenters our home.
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Review these common-sense tips to limit the the spread of COVID-19:
- Wash your hands regularly, with warm water and soap, for at least 20 seconds. Include wrists, under nails, between fingers, and backs of hands. (Singing the alphabet song, Happy Birthday twice, or several verses of another favorite song will help.) Turn off the faucet with an elbow, sleeve, or paper towel, especially if you’re out in public.
- Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Sneeze or cough into your elbow or a tissue. Then throw away the tissue immediately – DON’T put it on the counter. Finally, wash your hands again.
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth. If you must do so, clean your hands immediately, preferably by washing (see above), or with hand sanitizer.
- If you’re sick or someone in your family may have been exposed, self-quarantine at home for 14 days. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, a dry cough, and shortness of breath/tightness in your chest. If you or someone in your home has these symptoms, call your doctor’s office or a nearby medical clinic to seek advice before heading out.
- Clean surfaces regularly – countertops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, etc. Antibacterial wipes may be your first choice, but paper towels/rubbing alcohol or a diluted bleach solution (4 tsp bleach per quart of warm water) will also work. So will soap and warm water. And don’t forget about wiping down phones, keyboards, etc. too.
DON’T: Go out into public when you don’t have to.
Even if your mayor or governor hasn’t yet shut down all nonessential businesses where you live, it’s worth avoiding trips out into public whenever possible. Cities that did this proactively during the 1918 flu pandemic fared much better than those that delayed.
- Try to minimize or eliminate trips to the store, social gatherings, and other public events such as worship services.
- If your house of worship hasn’t already moved online, reach out to your pastor about moving worship, Bible studies, etc. to Facebook Live.
- Reschedule volunteer meetings to videoconferencing or conference calls.
- If at all possible in your line of work, ask your employer about work-from-home or telecommuting options.
DO: Maintain community in spite of social distancing.
Just because we’re not supposed to be out and about in public as much doesn’t mean we should avoid all contact with the outside world. Because the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions seem to be especially hard-hit by this virus, it’s important to keep tabs on their well-being and make sure they’re OK.
Here are some tips to help you do that:
- Every day, reach out to someone who could use a check-in or spirit boost: an elderly neighbor or relative, your older neighbor, etc. A phone call, video call, text or email message, chat out the window, or reach-out on Facebook can make their day during this isolating time.
- You can still visit with your neighbors while maintaining social distancing. Yesterday, our girls rode their bikes up and down our street with the twins who live next door. Even as they all kept their distance from each other. I had a nice chat with the twins’ mama, as we sat the recommended 6 feet away from each other on the grass.
- Stay active in your social networks online. My mama’s pastor is using their church’s private FB group for Facebook Live kids’ story time every morning, and nightly worship and/or Bible studies via FB live from his home. The girls’ karate studio has been posting videos with training tips, fitness challenges, and skills to practice at home in their private FB group. If you haven’t joined a local Meetup or FB or Nextdoor group in your area yet, now may be the perfect time to connect with others in your area through such an online forum.
How have you discussed the new coronavirus with your kids? Any tips we missed? Let us know in the comments!
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